Formalism and Formalism Critics

We can peel back the complex layers of literature and obtain greater understanding into its interpretations by using different methodologies within the large field of literary theory. Among these theories, Formalism stands out as a significant one that first appeared in the early 20th century and has remained influential in how we currently perceive literature. Formalism emphasises the intrinsic aspects of a literary work, emphasising its form, structure, language, and aesthetic features rather than its influences from the outside world or the author’s intended audience.

In this blog, we set out on an educational tour of the Formalist universe, investigating its fundamental ideas and significant influence on literary interpretation. We hope to foster a greater understanding of the complex craftsmanship that resides within the pages of every literary classic by digging into the theory’s core tenets and studying its significance in both conventional and modern literary criticism.

Formalism, which has its roots in the Russian Formalist movement, opposes traditional methods that put an emphasis on historical context or the author’s biography. Instead, it focuses our attention on a literary work’s fundamental components and treats them as an independent, self-contained unit. Formalism gives us the opportunity to explore a text’s patterns, motifs, narrative strategies, and linguistic devices in great detail, revealing hidden meanings and highlighting the writer’s extraordinary skill.

We will examine fascinating ideas like defamiliarization, which requires making the familiar seem unusual in order to elicit novel insights, via the prism of formalism. We will also explore the idea of organic wholeness, in which each component of a literary work contributes to the formation of a unified whole.

Join us as we embark on this fascinating tour into the world of Formalism, a literary philosophy that honours the craft of storytelling and invites us to discover the virtually limitless potential of the written word.

Who is the father of formalism?

Formalism is a school of thought in literary criticism that is sometimes credited as having its origins with Viktor Shklovsky. Shklovsky, who was born in 1893, was crucial in the growth of formalism since he emphasised the value of the compositional elements and creative methods used in a piece of work. His seminal writings, such as “Art as Technique,” upended accepted theories of literary criticism and helped to establish the formalist movement in the early 20th century. Shklovsky’s insights have had a long-lasting influence on literary criticism, influencing how we view and evaluate literature today.

Formalism Critics

1. Victor Shklovsky

Victor Shklovsky, who was born in 1893, is well known for being a vocal opponent of formalism. He was a key contributor to the growth of this significant school of literary criticism. Shklovsky’s theories were based on the idea of “defamiliarization,” according to which the goal of art is to alter preconceived notions and make the commonplace seem novel. His 1917 essay, “Art as Technique,” became a classic piece that urged readers to pay attention to a literary work’s distinctive form and style rather than just its substance.

The formalist movement of the early 20th century was greatly affected by Shklovsky’s emphasis on the value of form and technique in writing. His theories continue to influence literary criticism today, enticing readers to explore a piece of literature’s complexity and appreciate its creative craftsmanship beyond its obvious significance.

2. Boris Echenbaum

Born in 1886, Boris Eikhenbaum was a well-known critic and academic linked with the formalist movement. In the area of literary analysis in particular, he made significant contributions. Eikhenbaum promoted literary analysis as a separate academic discipline from its social and historical circumstances. He emphasised the value of looking at the particular literary devices and methods used by authors.

Eikhenbaum emphasised the significance of form and structure in understanding a literary work in his renowned essay, “The Theory of the Formal Method” (1921). He made the case that how authors structure their work and the methods they employ have a fundamental impact on how the reader is affected. Similar to his contemporary Victor Shklovsky, Eikhenbaum also investigated the idea of “ostranenie,” or defamiliarization, with the intention of challenging preconceived notions and inspiring new interaction with the text.

The comprehension and study of literature and its aesthetic approaches were profoundly influenced by Eikhenbaum’s thoughts and publications, which had a considerable influence on formalist literary criticism.

3. Yuri Tynyanov

A well-known critic and theorist linked with the formalist movement, Yuri Tynyanov was born in 1894. In exploring the dynamic relationship between literature and its historical setting, he made particularly significant contributions to the area of literary criticism.

Tynyanov’s influential idea of “literary evolution” placed an emphasis on the interaction between literary canons, cultural shifts, and unique authorial innovations. He claimed that in order to completely comprehend the creative significance of literature, it must be examined within its historical and social context.

Tynyanov was an accomplished fiction writer in addition to his critical work, which gave him a special viewpoint on the creative process. His understanding of the connection between literature and history has had a profound influence on literary criticism.

By stressing the significance of taking historical and formal variables into consideration in the analysis of literary works and their development over time, Tynyanov’s influential books, such as “The Problem of Verse Language” (1924), continue to influence the study of literature.

4. Roman Jacobson

Roman Jakobson, a well-known linguist, literary theorist, and critic who was connected to formalism and structuralism, was born in 1896. His profound and wide-ranging contributions to the field of literary criticism were noteworthy.

The formal components and linguistic structures that can be found in literary works were the main emphasis of Jakobson’s method of literary analysis. He emphasised the significance of comprehending the particular linguistic devices and strategies, such as metaphor, metonymy, and sound patterns. He emphasised the significance of these components in generating aesthetic effects and communicating meaning through his creative output.


In conclusion, formalism and its detractors have significantly influenced literary criticism and shaped our perception of literature as an art form. Formalism questioned conventional methods that gave priority to content or outside forces by emphasising the underlying structure and aesthetic processes within a work of art. By highlighting the significance of form, language, and stylistic techniques, critics like Viktor Shklovsky, Boris Eikhenbaum, Yuri Tynyanov, and Roman Jakobson cleared the path for a deeper understanding of literature.

These critics popularised the idea of defamiliarization, urging readers to view literature from novel angles and interact with a text’s creative components. They looked at linguistic patterns, the development of literary traditions, and the complex interactions between literature and its historical setting.

Our understanding of how meaning is produced through formal elements and underlying structures has increased as a result of formalism and subsequent advancements like structuralism. Modern literary criticism is still influenced by the formalist school, which serves as a constant reminder of the value of form, method, and the distinctive artistic aspects that make reading engaging and multifaceted. We learn more about the writing process and the ways that writings interact with readers across a range of historical and cultural contexts by examining the formal qualities of literature.

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